Arrow Video has been steadily building an impressive collection of genre restorations, including maestro Mario Bava’s most successful film, Baron Blood (1972), as well as his earlier anthology film Black Sabbath, which is made up of three short stories, each one showcasing a different subgenre of horror. In the first episode, The Telephone, a young prostitute is terrorised by some nasty phone calls, while supernatural terror hounds the conscience of a nurse who steals a piece of jewellery from the corpse of her employers in A Drop of Water. The final part, The Wurdalak, is a beautiful piece of gothic horror, starring Boris Karloff as a father who, upon his return to his family, may be more than what he seems.
The joy of seeing Black Sabbath in such a beautiful condition is unparalleled: it is one of the director’s most visually alluring films and the gorgeous colours in eye-popping Technicolor really bring forth the quality of Bava’s imagination. Although the stories can seem uneven, he demonstrates a technical deftness that shines throughout. It’s also incredibly entertaining to see the master skilfully switching styles: comparing the gothic horrors of The Wurdalak with the giallo sleaze of The Telephone shows how versatile a director Bava was.
Presented here in two different restored versions, the original Italian cut and the AIP version, it has to be said that the Italian cut is the better looking of the two. The print is struck with solid rich colours, as vibrant as Bava would have arranged them, with fantastic definition throughout. Although there’s some heavy grain in some of the uncontrolled exterior shots, this is far preferable to hideous digital fixing which seems to plague a lot of the current crop of releases. There’s also some minor print damage apparent as well as some film movement – however, again, this would have looked far worse had Arrow tried to fix that digitally. In fact, these are minor complaints in what is otherwise a gorgeous looking print that’s incredibly respectful of what Bava would have probably desired for the overall look of the film. In contrast, the AIP version of the film has a lighter tone – with the score re-mixed and featuring alternate introductions from Karloff, it serves more as an interesting historical viewpoint: an alternative angle through which to examine the film.
The extras are also compelling: Twice The Fear is a comparative featurette that covers the difference between the two versions of the film in split screen – informative and well presented, it is a terrific addition to the disc. The interview with Mark Damon sheds light on the career of the actor and especially his time with Bava, though finding out more on his involvement with Roger Corman on the Poe adaptations also makes for interesting and engaging material. The trailers, TV and radio spots, albeit slight, certainly enhance the overall experience. It’s a joy to be able to view these materials so long after the release of the film, while Alan Jones’s introduction is informative and well-presented, giving the viewer a sense of what to come. All in all, this is a must-purchase release that should be on the shopping list of most film lovers.